Dogged Marsh-Handscomb stand helps Australia maintain series parity

22
The pair batted for 373 balls in their 125-run partnership
© BCCI

Just after the hour’s mark on the final day in Ranchi, the result seemed done and dusted. India looked all over Australia, and a 2-1 series lead for the hosts beckoned. But, as has been the case this series, Australia showed that they would not go down easily.

Ishant Sharma had given the Indians their much-needed breakthrough by trapping Matt Renshaw in front and Ravindra Jadeja had hammered home the advantage by getting captain Steve Smith in the very next over. But just as everyone expected India, and Jadeja in particular, to run through the Australian line-up, Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh put together a marathon stand for the fifth wicket to help their side stave off defeat.

The Test, much to the contrast of what had been predicted at its start, lasted the full five days, provided great entertainment and ended in a hard fought draw. The pair blunted everything the Indians threw at them, with Jadeja operating with the rough and Ashwin and the pacers attacking from the other end. They shared a 125-run stand off 373 balls, batting with great application to help their side go out with even honours. Australia ended the day at 204 for 6 with Matthew Wade and Handscomb unbeaten on 9 off 16 and 72 off 199 balls respectively.

Handscomb had had a disappointing series so far, having gotten to regular starts before throwing it away later. In Ranchi, the right-hander showed that he had all the makings of a reliable number five. He was able to play the spinners and the seamers with great ease, using his feet and trusting his defence to keep the Indians at bay.

Virat Kohli tried to make Handscomb’s strength his weakness by placing two fielders at short mid-wicket for an uppish flick. He had been dismissed in that fashion in the first innings in Benagaluru. This time, however, Handcomb did not take the bait. He still continued to use his feet, but kept the ball along the ground. Marsh, at the other end, had to face a sterner test with Jadeja spinning the ball in from the rough. He faced a few nervy moments, including against the pace of Umesh Yadav, but was able to keep his wicket intact.

While Jadeja continued to be a threat, Ashwin, unfortunately for India, looked lacklustre. The offspinner tried a variety of things, even resorting to leg-spin for a couple of balls, but success evaded him. Both batsmen were able to play him with relative ease, with Handcomb especially confident enough to work him off his legs for singles and boundaries.

Umesh Yadav came close to giving the hosts an opening on a few occasions, but luck was not on his side. Australia didn’t much rely on luck to help them on the final day. Their resistance was designed more by a fierce determination and perfect application. Australian coach Darren Lehmann had mentioned at the end of Day 4 that the visitors had prepared for exactly such scenarios. Handcomb and Marsh proved how effective their preparations and more importantly, execution were.The pair had gotten together in the 30th over of the innings when Renshaw and Smith fell in quick succession. From there on, they batted together, giving India a taste of what they received the previous day when Cheteshwar Pujara and Wriddhiman Saha shared a record-stand of 199.

Post Tea, India had their last throw of dice when a close LBW call against the right-hander was reviewed. Replays showed that the ball was hitting the top of the stumps, but not by enough to overturn Ian Gould’s not out call. Handscomb went on to notch up his fifty soon after, while Marsh followed with a cover drive off his 190th delivery.

The fight petered out for India as soon as Australia took the lead, but they still took the new ball to see if something happens. Ashwin had another close LBW call turned down. Kohli continued to press on in the final hour, and was rewarded when Shaun Marsh offered a catch at short-leg. The left-hander had batted over 230 minutes for his 197-ball 53.

Glenn Maxwell’s stay lasted only 15 balls as Ashwin had him caught at forward short leg, to take his first wicket of the innings. But it was a little too late, as the game ended in a draw soon after.Earlier in the day, Smith and Renshaw kept India waiting for their first wicket during an engaging first hour. India started with Jadeja from the South End and Umesh Yadav from the other. The Australian pair had little trouble in seeing off the initial threat. India, however, roared back into the contest thanks to some unintentional impetus provided by Renshaw.

The left-hander had stopped Ishant mid-way during his run up, leading to the bowler flinging the ball to the keeper in frustration. The incident revved up the crowd and made the Indians more intense. Ishant worked up the pace in that over and ended up dismissing Renshaw LBW for 15 off 85 balls. In the very next over, Smith, perhaps distracted by what had happened at the other end, failed to prod fully forward while padding away a Jadeja delivery. The ball pitched on the rough and spun away to uproot the off-stump.

India were well and truly on top at that stage, but Handscomb and Marsh’s patience and determination helped Australia see off India. Even MS Dhoni’s presence at the ground – who was spotted after Tea – did little to change India’s fortunes. The teams, tied at 1-1, will now head to Dharamsala for the series decider.

Brief Scores: Australia 451 & 204/6 (Peter Handscomb 72, Shaun Marsh 53; Ravindra Jadeja 4-54) vs India 603/9 dec. Match drawn.